The British Empire Library

Gender, Culture and Empire: European Women in Colonial Nigeria

by Helen Callaway

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Anthony Kirk-Greene (N Nigeria 1950-66)
There are really two titles appealing to two levels of readership here, and visitors to this site, some of whom may well be antipathetic to the inescapable vocabulary of the professional anthropologist (gender roles, ethnographic taxonomy, negative stereotypes, etc.) can feel relieved by and relax in the no less effective narrative historical reconstruction of what it was like to be a woman in Colonial Nigeria.

Reviews carried iover the past few years have emphasised the earlier conspicuous absence of the woman's view of that essentially male preserve, the Colonial Service. In a brilliant piece of research, written with meticulous authority yet in no way lacking the touch of shared empathy. Dr. Callaway, who spent many years in Nigeria and has since read widely and wisely in the remarkably rich Colonial Service archives in Rhodes House Library, Oxford, has given us a masterpiece. Throughout this highly readable and reliable study, she draws on the reminiscences, reactions and recollections of a whole host of women who will be known, in one way or another, to most of the 'Nigerians' among our membership, from Ladies Lugard, Bourdillon Maddocks and Sharwood Smith to Joan Allen, Catherine Dinnick-Parr, Elizabeth Purdy, Sheelagh Wrench and scores of others besides. Women are tellingly observed in 'a man's country'; as doctors, matrons, teachers and colonial administrators (yes, there were such); as wives, in supporting roles as well as 'part-time wives' before 1940; and in their role in the domestication of colonial life after the war.

Here is an original, first-rate book. Everyone is likely to find it outstandingly important to have available, utterly impossible to put down once started, and outrageously improbable to buy at the hardback price. Roll on that paper-back - and meanwhile, double the ordering staff in your local library!

British Empire Book
Helen Callaway
Macmillan Press


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